Mittwoch, 26. Juni 2019

Sieger-Essays des St. Gallen Symposiums "Das nächste große Ding ist eine Serie kleiner Dinge"

Sauberes Wasser? Meist ist es effektiver, einfach die alte Infrastruktur zu reparieren als große neue Lösungen zu versuchen, wie in Mosambik

In einem weltweiten Essay-Wettbewerb hat das St. Gallen Symposium die drei besten Texte ausgezeichnet. Wir veröffentlichen hier den erstplatzierten Essay des diesjährigen Wettbewerbs, "The Next Big Thing is a Series of Small Things", im englischen Original.

Thinking of Big Ideas is tempting. It is an unbeatable addiction to imagine a magic pill or silver bullet: finding that one thing we are doing wrong but can correct with a single change and consequently improve circumstances drastically. And everyone loves big ideas: they are flashy; they grab attention. A big idea gets its creator headlines, funding grants, TED Talks, and - who knows - maybe even a Nobel Prize. When was the last time a book about a small, boring, potentially insignificant idea turned into a bestseller?

The task of changing the world, the present would have us believe, is one of high stakes: requiring massive ambition and offering large rewards. And there is no room for those who cannot dream big.

However, this essay will articulate a different argument. It operates on the premise that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Something that fits the format of a TED Talk, i.e. one path breaking approach that challenges conventional dogma and exposes miraculous truths about society, may be simplifying the problem itself. It wonders what are the ramifications of big ideas: Are they worth the hype? And it suggests that perhaps the next big idea should be an acknowledgment of the fallibility of big ideas.

A big idea gone wrong

If one were to think of the two biggest problems facing Africa today, many would pipe up to decry the lack of clean water and the difficult conditions for African children. A few years ago, one big idea came along that sought to hit these two birds with one stone - or merry-go-round, if you will. The vision was simple: place a merry-go-round in an African village. Connect it to an overhead water tank a few metres away. As children play on the merry-go-round, the kinetic energy is used to pump underground water, filling the tank. And since the tank is connected to a tap valve, villagers can access clean water easily. Children have space to play; they and their parents have water to drink.

Zur Person
  • Copyright:
    Laya Maheshwari studiert Politikwissenschaft an der London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The people responsible, a company named PlayPumps International, had seemingly thought of everything. The tank, seven metres above ground, would have billboards for advertising on two sides and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns on the other two.

They won the right attention. PlayPump received the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2000. Six years later, the US Government announced 10 million dollar in support. Celebrities were enamoured too; American rapper Jay Z pledged 250,000 dollar.

However, things did not go according to plan. A 2009 investigative report in The Guardian found that many PlayPumps were lying disused; children were not playing on them and the tanks did not contain any water. What happened?

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